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Why the Twitter ‘Who Gives a Tweet’ Researchers are Wrong

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tweet-twitter-question-bubbleThe people behind the Who Gives a Tweet website and study report that Twitter users find just over a third of the tweets they receive worthwhile. In 25 percent of cases, tweets were not worth reading at all, according to the team comprised of Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and Georgia Tech researchers.

Lead author Paul Andre, post-doctoral fellow in Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII), suggests, "If we understood what is worth reading and why, we might design better tools for presenting and filtering content, as well as help people understand the expectations of other users.”

I’m going to play devil’s advocate here, but first...

Who Gives a Tweet Study Details & Findings

Andre and fellow researchers Michael Bernstein (MIT) and Kurt Luther (Georgia Tech) created the Who Gives a Tweet website to collect ratings of 43,738 tweets by 1,443 site visitors and Twitter users over a 19-day period in late 2010 and early 2011. Their study found that users liked just 33 percent of tweets from the accounts of the 21,014 Twitter users they collectively followed. 39 percent of tweets rated generated no strong opinion one way or the other.

"A well-received tweet is not all that common," Bernstein told a CMU publication. "A significant amount of content is considered not worth reading, for a variety of reasons."

The least popular tweets were those directed at people other than the user, as in a conversation, or tweets about people’s current mood or activity. Andre suggests that applications could be developed to “learn” a user’s preferences and filter out unwanted content, or to display information in different ways. He does acknowledge that users may be willing to tolerate some unwanted content.

@WhoGivesaTweet... Get Over Yourself

How about, instead of contemplating ways to further dilute the personal value that each user brings to the conversation and subsequently risk falling further into the filter bubble, we simply accept that you have to take some of the bad to get the good?

Are we really becoming so selfish that we would believe only content we deem worthy of our precious time being set before our eyes is a good thing? Twitter is a wealth of free information, contacts, and resources precisely because many users share openly and, for the most part, unselfishly.

A user might tweet a valuable gem every few days, between tweets about their personal life, conversations with friends, etc. You might not find those tweets as valuable, it’s true. But someone please explain to me why it’s acceptable to take only what you want and feel you deserve from a person while effectively filtering out everything else they have to share?

Oh yes, many of us use Twitter for marketing. In general, if those tweets used to drive traffic or sales offer something of value, or the company behind them does, users will continue to follow and even engage. How do you feel about being filtered? And why on earth would you want to filter out a single customer, is that a worthwhile trade-off to save a bit of time?

The thing is, if you find that someone is tweeting too often, or you don’t enjoy the majority of what they are saying, you can always unfollow. But if you find something of value in what they are saying, even a third of the time or less, isn’t what you take away from that worth putting up with the “waste of time” that is having to read through their other tweets? This cuts straight to the heart of authentic relationship building.

Taking vs. Appreciating on Twitter

The study authors make recommendations such as “Keep it short,” “Keep it to yourself,” “Don’t whine,” and “Be a tease,” to help users be better tweeters. How about, “Be a better listener and appreciate the person behind the account instead of feeling entitled to only their best thoughts and ideas.” Devising new ways to further automate the process of engaging may just be counterproductive to engaging in any meaningful way at all.

Andre says that, "Social media technologies such as Twitter pose questions regarding privacy, etiquette and tensions between sharing and self-presentation, as well as content. Continued exploration of these areas is needed for us to improve the online experience."

Exploration is good. Perhaps, though, we should be exploring why it is that we feel bothered and uncomfortable by people who share with us some valuable content sharing the rest of themselves, as well. Instead of looking for ways to develop smarter and better “taking,” perhaps we should learn to appreciate what it is others are giving away in the first place.


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